Banjo Music Envelopes New Bedford At The Zeiterion

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn (Photo courtesy Zeiterion Performing Arts Center)

It isn’t every day that you hear homespun mountain music in a New England coastal town, but that is exactly what happened when Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn performed their brilliant banjo concert at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center tonight. 

This was Fleck’s fourth time at the “Z,” and it was obvious that his Southcoast following is strong as many in the audience had been to see him before, some having attended his shows all four times!

As the evening progressed, the husband-and-wife duo performed a wide collection of songs that took me back to my early years living in West Virginia and Arkansas, many of the songs with a distinctive Appalachian flavor.

Other songs resonated with the sounds of Memphis, bringing to mind old slave spirituals or dust bowl blues, reminiscent of the soundtrack from the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? 

Regardless of which song they performed, we were in very capable, nimble hands as they played several different types of banjos, sometimes accompanied by Washburn’s distinctive, pure, haunting voice.

One of my favorite things about the show, however, was the humor that the duo laced throughout the program. They talked about encountering a local earlier in the day who asked if they wanted a monkey’s fist, and being newcomers to the area they had no idea what that was.

In another monologue, they talked about a funny enounter they had when Fleck was driving a little too fast in their hometown of Nashville, Tenn. The officer asked them, “Do you know who the best banjo player in the world is?”

Without missing a beat, Béla said, “Earl Scruggs.”

“That’s right,” the officer said, letting him off with a strong warning.

Later, when Fleck and Washburn were actually playing music at Earl Scruggs’ home, he told them he’d heard that they had a brush with the law.

They were surprised to hear it, but then it all made sense when Scruggs told them that the lawman in this case was his nephew.

Stories like this, along with the easy, intimate performance, were charming and engaging, and made for an evening that made those in the audience feel like they were simply hanging out with friends in their living room, sharing the joy of great music, rather than in a large performance venue.

Therein is the beauty of this show. Fleck and Washburn are impeccably hospitable hosts, inviting us into their realm and into their world, and offering up the best entertainment they know how.

And that’s truly the mark of a great performance. When you’re in the presence of people like this, who are this genuine and unassuming, you totally forget about the world outside on Purchase Street, and readily hand yourself over to the gracious company before you.

As originally featured on WBSM.com. 

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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